Cardinal revises parish-Central Ministries financial relationship model

BRAINTREE -- A decree issued by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley makes revisions to the way parishes support the Central Ministries of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Effective Nov. 23, the decree issues changes to the taxes parishes are mandated to pay to the archdiocese, altering the system that had been in place since 2013.

The system, called the Improved Financial Relationship Model (IFRM), was developed in 2008 by a committee of pastors and Pastoral Center staff. At the time, it eliminated a complex system of payments, fees, and taxes charged to parishes, in favor of a more streamlined model that required parishes to contribute a 10 percent tithe on the three-year average of their total offertory, grand annual, and rental income. It was rolled out slowly, first on a voluntary basis and then on a mandatory one, and wasn't fully implemented until July, 2013.

The IFRM, according to the text of the decree, "has largely been a success in accomplishing its goals and tasks," but new variables, including the pastoral plan, Disciples in Mission, which has seen parishes sorted into collaboratives, and "continuing costs associated with the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach," an office that was not formerly funded by the Central Ministries, has required revisions to the model.

A tax, consisting of three components, will now be imposed on parishes.

The first component revises the tithe, mandating that parishes contribute a 10 percent tithe on the three-year-average of their total offertory and grand annual collections, referred to in the document as "base revenue." That tax is reduced to 5.3 percent for parishes with schools.

Net rental income, the second component of the tax, will no longer be included in "base revenue" of a parish but will now be taxed separately at a rate 18 percent. For parishes with schools, that rate is reduced to 13.3 percent.

The third component introduces an 18 percent tax on the net proceeds of the sale of parish properties.

With this new tax on property sales, parishes will be encouraged not to sell properties, but to rent or lease them instead, said Father Paul Soper, Secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship and Director of Pastoral Planning, in a Nov. 15 joint interview with Director of Parish Services Denise McKinnon-Biernat.

"What we've learned strongly in studies over these last several years is that the sale of property very seldom significantly strengthens a parish," he said.

"The parishes get the money, but then the money often ends up being used for operating expenses... When they've burned through that with operating expenses, then they no longer have the property, and they no longer have the money," he continued.

In addition to the offertory, rental income and property sale taxes, each parish will continue to be assessed a Catholic Appeal assessment of 8 percent.

By moving rental income out from the base revenue tithe, however, that assessment will be easier for some parishes to meet, said Father Soper.

"A number of parish assessments were significantly too high because of the rental income," he said.

The revision will now "open up the opportunity for them to have the local success of having met that assessment."

For parishes that exceed their assessment, 50 percent of the amount over the assessment will be directed into a rebate pool. Money from the pool will pay for abatements to the tax for qualifying parishes, and the "balance of the pool will then be distributed to qualifying parishes on a pro-rata basis."

In order to qualify for an abatement or rebate, however, now parishes must meet or exceed their appeal "In Pew Goal" by implementing the "In Pew Campaign" best practices that are outlined in the Catholic Appeal Procedural Guide and engage a Catholic Appeal Coordinator volunteer.

The In Pew practices encourage more parishioners to participate in the Appeal, and can result in more funds raised, said Father Joseph Raeke, pastor of the Catholic Tri-Parishes of Brockton and formerly chair of the IFRM committee.

Speaking to The Pilot Nov. 15 on the changes to the rebate system, Father Raeke said the IFRM committee "took a position that all the parishes need to have an Appeal coordinator and they need to do the In Pew process so that we call more people to the whole."

"As a result, we believe more funds will be generated, but more importantly, more people are called to participate into this in a way that allows them to see beyond their own parish," he said.

Father Paul Ritt, pastor of the Lynnfield Catholic Community collaborative and a member of the IFRM committee, noted Nov. 15 that on the whole, the revisions to IFRM "make things as fair and equitable as possible and benefit as much as possible the Central Ministries of the archdiocese and the local parishes."

Under the old system, he said, "Some parishes were paying way over their fair share in contributions to the Archdiocese, and some far under."

"It was quite unfair," he added, and the decree "helps level the playing field."

The decree makes it clear that the IFRM will be "reviewed at least every five years," and, according to McKinnon-Biernat, new changes could be made at those points.

"The world changes, we change, parishes change," she said. "Things change and we need to have a period to review and make changes to improve it."